Striving for better: following LDC leadership in addressing the climate crisis

Guest blogger Gebru Jember sets out the principles guiding the least developed countries’ initiative on effective adaptation and resilience.

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Gebru Jember Endalew is technical lead of the LDC Initiative for effective adaptation and resilience (LIFE-AR)
26 January 2021
Business unusual: LDC-led climate action
A series of blogs and interviews showing how the least developed countries are leading the way in embarking on new ways of working in order to help tackle climate change
Man in a mangrove forest

Farming mangrove forests helps to safeguard local food and economic security in Tanzania. LIFE-AR sets out a plan for implementing new ways of working that address the disrupting climate challenges in the LDCs (Photo: UN Environment Programme via FlickrCC BY-NC 2.0)

Climate change is the greatest challenge facing humanity; never has the world faced a threat of such scale and complexity. We need new approaches and innovative solutions to tackle this unprecedented and rapidly accelerating crisis, and be willing to take risks. Some may fail, but we must be ready to get up and try again.

The 47 least developed countries (LDCs) are the most vulnerable to this crisis. We, in the LDCs, recognise that approaches to dealing with it fall short of the challenge.

These ‘business-as-usual’ approaches use short term, area or sector specific projects, to solve what is a long term, cross sector and multidimensional challenge. Climate change knows no boundaries, so while a project in one area or village might be managing climate impacts effectively, the crisis is wreaking havoc next door.

High intermediation (funds moving from one organisation to another, to another) leads to funds being significantly depleted due to high administration and transaction costs, by the time they reach communities (presuming they get that far).

Meanwhile, climate solutions are often developed by experts in countries or cities far from where they are implemented, overlooking the expertise of local communities or authorities. Unsurprisingly, these top-down approaches often fail. Despite the LDCs’ decades-long experience in tackling the climate crisis, the door is still closed to the very communities and countries whose expertise the world would benefit from most.

A way forward

The LDCs believe there is another, more effective way of dealing with the climate crisis. The LDC initiative for effective adaptation and resilience (LIFE-AR) sets out a plan for implementing new ways of working that address our climate challenges. It presents a viable alternative and seeks to lead by example, and inspire others to follow suit. We call this ‘business unusual’. But what do we mean by this?

LIFE-AR is based on shared principles that can be adopted by any organisation – whether from the LDCs or others in the international community – working in the development and climate space. The principles can be tailored to local contexts, but are universal in that they ensure everyone strives towards high level outcomes outlined in the LDC 2050 Vision.

These principles are:

  1. Equality: between LDCs and the international community, between government and non-government actors, involving equal decision/making and mutual accountability, that values all contributions to generate shared solutions.
  2. Integration: uniting sectors and actors horizontally and vertically to deliver whole-of-society action through long-term planning and programmes. Donors and climate funds can play their part by improving their collaboration and integration, and simplifying procedures to minimise burden
  3. Ownership: enabling LDC countries and communities to lead on the development of climate solutions, following their direction, guidance and pace, and working with existing LDC institutions, structures, and systems in-country to build sustainable capabilities for delivery.
  4. Placing local action at the heart, where resources are put into local hands with a target of 70% finance flows that support action on the ground in LDCs by 2030.
  5. Inclusion: leaving no country and no one behind, challenging social barriers that exclude and limit people’s potentials with a focus on gender transformation and social justice.

Principles in practice

In terms of programming, delivery behind these principles will create equal and shared platforms where power and decision-making are shared, that bring all actors to the table, including local communities the programme will impact.

In practice, they will promote holistic, long term, cross-sectoral and multi-level programmes, policies and plans, that enable a more integrated, joined-up way of working. Climate change knows no boundaries, so why should we build them between us?

The principles will encourage knowledge, skills and learning to remain within the country to ensure existing LDC institutions – such as government and universities – are strengthened. This prevents relying on external consultants, who, when they leave, can take knowledge with them.

Retaining knowledge and skills in-country will build the confidence of LDCs and vulnerable communities to lead the full programme design and delivery; it will develop equal partnerships, and dismantle relationships where one party deems itself superior.

Finally, these principles will promote efficient programme delivery – cutting down transaction costs so maximum resources reach the communities they’re intended for. 

Shifting the dial

All this calls for a radical shift in behaviour and mindsets in climate governance systems and structures, courage to step out of our comfort zone, readiness to learn new things and to grow, all the while searching for better ways of carrying out climate action.

Already, we are witnessing the start of these shifts. The Climate Adaptation Summit will launch the locally led adaptation principles focusing on increasing resources to local level. These are a good first step by the international community in responding to LDC concerns on 'business-as-usual'.

Challenge drives change, but it will take time, patience and the collective and constructive engagement of all involved, most especially the decision makers – LDC governments and donors. Nonetheless, we are willing to try, and hope that others will follow our example as LDCs, so together we can strive for better. Our planet and its most vulnerable people deserve that.

With thanks to Sarah McIvor, who contributed to this blog.

About the author

Gebru Jember Endalew is technical lead of the LDC Initiative for effective adaptation and resilience (LIFE-AR). He is also a former chair of the Least Developed Countries Group of the UNFCCC. He also serves as a regional lead on measurement, reporting and verification, climate diplomacy and institutions development at the Global Green Growth Institute regional office for Africa, based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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